After the ambush, the detectives’ van was reminiscent of those wretched vehicles strewn alongside roadways in the ongoing siege of Mosul. Except this was from the ongoing siege of Brownsville.
The unmarked Dodge Caravan, the unassuming minivan we once associated with soccer moms, had been sprayed with bullets from an AK-47, the same genre of military assault weapon wielded by ISIS terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo attack and the mass killing in Paris in 2015, at the Bardo National Museum and the Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia that same year. It was Islamist al-Shabaab killers who murdered 147 people, mostly students, in Garissa, Kenya, in 2015, but they too came armed with AK-47s.
The attack in Brownsville, a tough neighborhood in northwest Miami-Dade, is a more mundane kind of terrorism. We call it something else, of course. Gang violence. Youth violence. Street violence. But the firepower unleashed was just as fearsome.
My colleagues Charles Rabin and David Ovalle described the van as pulverized. Nine bullets penetrated the windshield. Crime techs marked another dozen or so high-caliber bullet holes in the doors, hood and body of the van. A front tire was flattened. (A 19-year-old gangbanger has been charged.)
Somehow, Detectives Terence White, 47, and Charles Wood, 37, survived the barrage without life-threatening wounds.
That was the only shocking element here, that two human beings could come out of that bullet-riddled van alive. What ought to be shocking — that gangbangers in greater Miami have easy access to military assault weapons and automatic pistols — is hardly news hereabouts.
Our governor and state legislative leaders, rarely seen in neighborhoods like Brownsville, contend that the proliferation of firearms in Florida, even military assault weapons, somehow render us all safer. They imagine so many suburban homeowners fending off home invaders. But those permissive policies, pushed hard by the NRA and Open Carry gun lobbyists, come with deadly unintended consequences.
Brownsville, sandwiched between Liberty City and the 112 expressway, has been stricken with the kind of violence that would be unimaginable — and unacceptable — in the Zip codes that most of our gun-loving legislators inhabit. Just four days before the police ambush, a 16-year-old was hit with a hail of gunfire outside a shabby apartment complex on Northwest 24th Avenue. He survived, if in critical condition, with bullet wounds to the groin, hands and legs. And a 55-year-old man, apparently an unintended victim in that same shooting, was hit by two stray bullets in the arm and buttocks.
This is the neighborhood where, according to CBS 4, three teens were gunned down on March 9. Where eight people were wounded, the youngest just 11, in January when a gun battle interrupted the Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities at a Brownsville park. The gunplay set off a panicked stampede, adding to the casualties.
This is the neighborhood where a Miami firefighter, Chadrick G. Davis, 23, and another young man were gunned down at a wake for a friend who had been murdered just the week before.
Yet the fix for all this gun violence, according to legislators who hail from safe, prosperous neighborhoods, would be more guns, more assault weapons and more pistols carried openly, cowboy-style, in holsters. But the awful reality is that the perpetrators of loose gun laws are stoking a massacre in our urban neighborhoods. Most of the victims are kids.
Kat McGrory, a former Herald reporter now with the Tampa Bay Times, analyzed Florida hospital discharge records along with data from the state’s 24 medical examiners and came up with a startling discovery: a child was shot in Florida every 17 hours. Probably that average has since given way to even more gruesome numbers. McGrory was looking at data compiled between 2010 and 2015, when 3,200 kids and younger were killed or injured by gunfire. But casualties had steadily increased each year (26 percent from 2014 to 2015). Right along with Florida’s soaring gun sales.
The trend has been toward ever more gun-violence victims. But that’s not news in Brownsville or Liberty City or Overtown or Miami Gardens.
So naturally, the NRA has been pushing for ever looser gun laws. One brave legislator, Miami’s own Senate President Pro Tem Anitere Flores, has used her clout to stop a series of firearm bills this legislative session that would allow gunslingers to tote weapons into airports, on college campuses, into courthouses or to just walk around town with their holstered guns in full view.
Flores, diplomatically, told me via email, “I represent an area with very different viewpoints on gun control than some of my colleagues. We respect each other in the legislative process of presenting bills, but my sentiments will not change on this issue because I am representing the views of those who elected me.”
She promised to remain “firm on gun bills that potentially put Floridians lives at risk — that is something I hold to be sacred.”
Of course, gun absolutists have gone after Flores as if she were some kind of traitor. Ammoland, in a mighty leap of gun logic, wrote, “You have slapped the face of the fine men and women in our ‘Patria’ that have struggled to fight and flee the death grip of Castro’s communist oppression.”
Last week, the NRA sent a letter asking members to contact Senate President Joe Negron and demand that something be done about the intransigent Flores.
Who knows? It might work. The state capital is a long way from the bullet-riddled streets of Brownsville.